Gleacher & Co. analyst Brian Marshall sat down to do some math this week and came away with two conclusions:

  • Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) is generating about $60 million in quarterly movie sales, or about one-tenth the movie sales digital leader Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) boasts. Assuming Netflix-like growth for Apple's cinematic efforts, this represents something like a $1 billion sales opportunity as soon as 2015.
  • Never mind catching up to Netflix -- Apple should just buy the DVD-mailer-turned-digital-streamer and be done with it.

All of this assumes that Apple is positioned to copy the growth Netflix has shown in this particular market, of course. And I'm not entirely sure that's a fair bet.

Marshall is basing his numbers on recent comments by Steve Jobs on the number of daily iTunes movie downloads, and publicly available financial data on Netflix. Apple is relatively new to the movie game when compared to Netflix, but that's only if you hearken back to when the smaller company started sending out red envelopes by mail in 1999. iTunes video content has been around since 2005, but Netflix didn't start streaming until 2007.

Is it fair to say that Netflix has a head start on Apple, when Cupertino arguably launched its digital service more than a year earlier? We can split hairs about full-length movies versus TV show episodes and music videos all day, but the basic fact is, Netflix actually had to play catch-up to Apple first -- and it did so with aplomb.

That's not to say that Marshall's investment thesis on Apple is null and void -- he has a buy rating and a $355 target price on the stock, mainly because of iPad sales trends and a Verizon (NYSE: VZ) iPhone appearing in the near future. Getting big in the movie market would simply be some nice icing on the cake.

Longtime readers probably know that I don't exactly see eye to eye with that rosy view, because you're assuming perfect-10 execution from Apple every step of the way. Adding Netflix to the mix wouldn't change the investing risks ahead -- and we Netflix shareholders would appreciate the sudden buyout premium while grieving for a lost future of freestanding growth. Then again, Steve Jobs has seen that movie before.

Apple can certainly afford to buy Netflix for $12 billion or so, but why would the movie maven shack up with Apple's diametrically opposed business philosophies? Sorry, Brian -- I don't think this is going to happen.

What do you think? Argue the case for or against Apple engulfing Netflix in the comments below.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of Netflix but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. Apple and Netflix are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. The Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.